Marché aux puces is French for flea market ~ and the biggest and most famous flea market in Paris is Le Marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen. How do I even begin to describe St.-Ouen?! Well, it’s a labyrinth. You may think that term could apply to any outdoor market of its kind, but even the souk in Marrakech cannot compare to the scale and serpentine navigation of this unbeatable bazaar. It sets the standard.
When first one enters the mouth of the market, the initial sellers’ selections could unnerve even a seasoned treasure hunter. You see, the first few rings of this tree are lined exclusively in stalls selling fake Nikes, snapbacks and sports jerseys. Closer to Canal Street than your typical flea market fare. You may wonder if perhaps you’ve arrived in the wrong place, and yet you keep walking, on and on, deeper into the maze. Eventually the streets stretch a bit wider, and suddenly there are wiry old Frenchmen selling actual old stuff, spread out across blankets laid flat on the sidewalk under the open sun. You think you’ve found the gold, so you start snapping up tchotchkes. Because they’re French! Oh, but this is still only the beginning, Grasshopper. Keep walking.
Those wide-stretched roads will eventually narrow again, as you loop deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. Slowly there will be tents, tin-roofs, haphazard enclosures. Like Alice in Wonderland, the landscape around you is continually evolving, and gradually the stuff gets even more interesting. There are rotting 17th century paintings sitting astride carousel horses, Victorian birdcages and faded French romance novels. Lots of fabulous old phones.
You start to get hungry, and fortune is favorable here. The typically-expected sausage-on-a-stick stalls are replaced in this place by proper cafés serving croque-monsieurs, hearty wines, stiff espressos and a clean ashtray at all hours of the day. So you stop and you eat, and probably you have a drink too because this is France after all.
Fed, fortified, you continue on. The sidewalks grow ever narrower, and those tents you just passed are replaced by permanent structures, their outsides crawling in ivy. Inside these are truly hallowed French antiques. Exquisite artwork. Historic furnishings. Proud, informed, fascinating vendors. An embarrassment of vintage Chanel. My Comme des Garçons blazer. The grandest selection of ancient Louis Vuitton trunks your eye will ever see. And a whole lotta heartbreak.
ABOVE LEFT| wearing vintage Pierre Cardin hat from O Canto de Paris, Ray-Ban sunnies, BCBG sweater, Everlane shirt, Current/Elliott jeans, Alberto Fermani boots ABOVE RIGHT| wearing vintage scarf, Comme des Garcons suit, The Elder Statesman cashmere tee, Feit shoes WEARING| wearing vintage Pierre Cardin hat from O Canto de Paris, Michele watch, BCBG sweater, Everlane shirt, Current/Elliott jeans, Alberto Fermani boots